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The Right is using a Wikileaks email to claim that democrats had direct control over a popular comedy show. It is fake news.

6 Dec

One of the Podesta emails released by Wikileaks has people in a frenzy over a conspiracy that The Colbert Report was being controlled by “the Left”. Here is the relevant email:

CGI U – The Colbert Report Special Episodes To:, Date: 2013-04-10 14:29 Subject: CGI U – The Colbert Report Special Episodes

John, I hope you got a chance to see the The Colbert Report’s two special episodes I had them do about CGI U that we taped in St. Louis this weekend. This is the link to last nights with a sketch about commitments and the monologue and WJC interview aired Monday. Hope you enjoy and looking forward to your feedback. Next will be your Colbert appearance! -Craig

Seems alarming right? What does he mean he “had them do” those episodes?!

Well, the episode in question – #9082, April 8th 2013 – was a visit by Colbert to the institute. So when “Craig” from CGI says they “did” an episode for Colbert, he means that Colbert had literally visited the institute, and had interviewed Bill Clinton.

The Right is spinning this leak as evidence of Democratic tampering with popular media. This is a piece of fake news/conspiracy that I find particularly troubling, because it attempts to delegitimize someone who has been a keen political observer and who has been very vocal about Trump. We need those people. Satire is a strong tool for truth and progress. It is vital that sane critical-thinkers make the effort to expose these toxic misinformation attempts.


It’s Art Blakey’s Birthday!

11 Oct

Been some time…

11 Oct

It’s funny how the more I have to write about, the less writing I do.

I don’t even want to think about how long it has been since I used this blog.  A year?  Two?  Looks like my last post was a book review, exactly two years ago.  Life and it’s funny coincidences.

Yes, I’ve been absent in more ways than one.  Life went upside-down for a while, a succession of major setbacks and tragedies – some self-imposed, some the inevitable hand of fate.  I’ve lost some people, and some purpose, and a sense of self.  I’m starting back at zero in my life, which would have been a liberating sensation in my twenties, but now, honestly, leaves me feeling confused and displaced.  Without any particular direction or responsibility, without the comfort of a family or the expectations of a career, having unlimited options really becomes a sort of paralysis – especially when you are well into adulthood, and are expected to have your shit together by now.  I feel much too old to be a blank slate.

At the same time, I have such a greed for my time on earth, and for my potential, and for all of the possibilities in the world.  I want to do everything, and I’m running out of time, which makes it feel impossible to pick a direction and stick to it.  So, I end up doing almost nothing, which only compounds my restlessness and sense of failure.  It has been hard to unravel this internal tangle, or to even find the motivation to explore it on the page.  As a writer, I’ve never really been the “confessional” type (outside of sporadic journaling).  For a while now, writing of any kind has seemed impossible, as I try to “figure out” the bigger issues looming in my mind.  My productivity for this past year and a half has been almost nil.

But as they say, every day above ground is a good day.  I’m getting my groove back, and since writing has always been my happy place, the revival of this blog is a useful step.  These days I’m grasping almost blindly at new opportunities, and working on “self-improvement” – which for me mainly means getting enough calories, even if I have to force down two baked potatoes and a tuna sandwich before bed, and it means getting exercise, even if it means a bike ride at midnight through poorly-lit streets.  And I’ve noticed how these minor things can boost me up, at least for a little while – and how that energy can be redirected.  The sensation of doing something, however small, can be very good for a stagnant spirit.

I think the next item on my life’s immediate agenda, besides writing, is to travel again, domestically and abroad.  The years that I spent traveling when I was a younger man were happy for me, and since I now have very little tying me down, perhaps it is the time to recapture that, to rediscover my place in the world.  Heading into autumn, south seems the way to go.  I think some camping down in the Smokies would be revitalizing.  Maybe Central America – I hear Belize is nice.  I’m looking at Spain in the spring.  Anywhere.  When things are getting too settled and muddy, you have to shake em up.

60 Second Review – Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

11 Oct

Black MoonBlack Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off – titling your debut novel to rhyme with your last name is genius. “what have you been reading?” “Black Moon by Calhoun” – so easy to remember!

This book has some impressive elements. I thought the author captured the crushing, inescapable, often nonsensical nature of insomnia, and brought it to an exciting and extreme degree. I was drawn in to the suspense of the story, how the mundane becomes dangerous, and how we are just animals underneath our rationality and cognizance. There were a few off-notes, scenes that felt a bit long, the occasional rambling dream-sequence that I had trouble paying attention to. I’m not sure yet how I feel about the ending. I think there’s a little Cormac McCarthy in this, that bleak, apocalyptic, good-guys-don’t-always win atmosphere. Calhoun handles multiple perspectives and jumping timelines deftly, which is no small writerly feat. Overall, it was a great read that I zipped through in two (somewhat sleepless) nights, and I will surely have my eye out for whatever he produces next.

View all my reviews

The Tyranny of Choice

15 Jun

We’ve all been there.  Scrolling indecisively through Netflix.  Hoarding free and cheap e-books.  Amassing games from Steam and GOG.  Streaming any movie or television show, anywhere any time.  The saturation of music online.  Piracy.  Etc.

Today we have more media access and options than ever in history.  It’s glorious, to be sure.  But there is a side-effect – we end up with so much stuff, it becomes an overwhelming proposition to choose one title to enjoy at any given moment.  When I listen to my mp3 player, half the time I don’t even know the band that’s playing.  Picking a movie to watch ends up taking as long as the movie itself, and it gets exponentially worse the more people that are involved.  And books… people brag about the ability to carry a thousands books on their e-reader, but then what?  Does anyone actually read those thousand books, or are they just prizes, collected in a frenzy of digital opportunism?

Allow me to date myself a bit.  It used to be, you go to the store and come back with a stack of new books, or a stack of new records and CDs, or a stack of new movies and games, etc. – and you’d enjoy that selection for weeks or months, really experiencing each one, appreciating it on a relatively more intimate and multi-sensory level. Now, the ease of content availability is making us digital hoarders. We burn through our media, thinking about the next thing before we’re even done with the one we’re on. Or we become paralyzed by the overwhelming number and variety of our options, like browsing Netflix for an hour before settling on something to watch with dinner (now cold).For me, there is an added dimension to the problem with physical books.  I can’t help it if every story and every subject seems so interesting!  Or that I live in a place with so many sources for cheap literary sustenance!  The result is a personal library that far outpaces and outsizes any reasonable person’s reading habits.  And when it comes time to pick a new book to read, I don’t know where to begin.  Perhaps there is a bigger issue at work – the eternal question of how best to use our time and experiences during our extremely limited mortal existence.  But let’s side-step the human condition for the moment.  It’s too nice a day.

I have some tools for dealing with media saturation and the endless glut of options.  Step one is culling.  Get rid of stuff that is only mildly interesting, keep stuff you are actually excited about.  I try to be giving/selling books at least as fast as I’m taking them in.  And when my harddrive is full of downloaded content, I know it’s time to watch everything on it before I can download anything else.  Step two is segmentation.  Select a few titles that you want to start with and ignore everything else in your library.  Box them up if you have to.  Step three is perfecting habits. For movies, try sticking to one theme, genre, filmmaker, etc.  Really dive in and explore, dim the lights, make it an event for the evening.  If it’s a book, find a good reading spot and use it regularly – the repetition of the environment helps trigger a reading mood.  Turn off phones and screens, get a beverage, slow your life down.

I mean, that’s something I think everyone needs more of anyway.  A slow-down.

How to Read: Thoughts for Fledgling Book Worms

10 Nov

Today, someone new to the act (art?) of reading books asked about how to become a reader, and whether he should start with the classics.  It’s an interesting question, I think.  And in my morning haze, I mentally smushed together this response, which I thought was worth sharing (as I’ve been woefully neglectful of this blog):

Reading is a spectrum of skill and intent that condenses and refines organically with time and experience.

On one end of this spectrum you have reading purely for pleasure, on the other, purpose.  The more you read, the shorter the spectrum becomes, until the two points are comfortably side-by-side. A well-practiced reader effortlessly and naturally combines the two.  I think it’s tempting for newish readers to reach immediately for the “heavy” classics, because they want to “be” that well-read person as quickly as possible. So they go for the books people talk about, the ones that sound so impressive when mentioned in conversation:

“So, what have you been reading?”

“Ah, I’ve been working on Swann’s Way by Proust, such an important work of literature, you know.”

Cue impressed raising of eyebrows. And, of course, it is inarguably an important work of literature, and I believe such things are important to experience.  But for a new reader, that’s like trying to learn piano by poring over Rachmaninoff’s concertos.  Much better to start at the beginning.  Reading well is a product of practice, and a new reader should begin by reading for pleasure first.  Find what it is you love, and lose yourself in some books that fit that attraction.  Don’t worry if they are “great” books, or even good ones.  The first step is training your reading “muscles”, and associating the practice with pure enjoyment.  Then you’ll naturally want to graduate to “heavier” books that catch your interest.  And you’ll be better equipped to approach them successfully.

Reading “critically” is another big facet of this, and we usually learn it in school (perhaps just enough to pass our classes).  But as a life-skill, it can really enrich any reading experience.  Often I hear readers become worried about what they might be “missing” from important works, as though understanding the “greats” is a privilege reserved for some esoteric literary realm somewhere far above them.  However, all it really takes to explore what we call “higher” art (in any medium) is curiosity.  It’s a damn shame, really, that much of civilization’s greatest achievements have been given this air of inaccessibility, when really, the very definition of great art includes universality – a relevance beyond time or place.

I’ll leave off with this quote by Nietzche regarding philology, which is a critical-reading approach that readers and scholars apply to historically-important texts.  I think it applies well to the art of reading deeply and with purpose:

“Philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all – to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow. It is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it slowly. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of work, that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to get everything done at once, including every old or new book. This art does not easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate fingers and eyes.” *

* This quote shamelessly borrowed from a lecture by classicist Gregory Nagy

So, by way of a summary: step one is to dive into the art of reading with a glutton’s enthusiasm. Read widely and often. Then, when you get to a book that you feel has deeper layers worth exploring; slow down, savor, probe, research, wonder. You’ll be well-rewarded, and – as with most things – the more you do it, the more you’ll be able to do.

Forgotten Places

9 Apr

Whenever I come across abandoned space, I’m drawn in.  I want to rummage in the shells of the past, imagine the stories left inside of forgotten walls.  The above picture doesn’t seem like anything very special, just a closed-down pool supply store on a busy highway outside of Philadelphia.  Yet, as I drove past it, I had to pull over, poke around, take a picture.  It wasn’t specifically amazing, and I’d bet I was the only person on that highway all day to give the building a second glance.  But there was something beautiful about it, and I spent the rest of the day dreaming of that building’s past and of its future, wondering about the people who invested themselves into it, and the happiness or despair it may have witnessed.  I imagined the space in a hundred years, wondered if the building would still stand; would it be converted into a store selling Tang and personal jet-packs?  Or would it be devoured by the surrounding woods, covered in creeping vines, with young trees growing straight through the roof?

I’ve always loved to explore abandoned places.  As a kid I would poke around boarded-up houses in the neighborhood, wander empty lots, even walk into big drainage pipes, feet sloshing through rain water.  I was fascinated by anything discarded or unacknowledged.  I’d peek into dumpsters (when my mother wasn’t watching, of course) and wonder what kind of strange treasures might lie therein.  When I got older, this impulse did not leave me as I started traveling the country.  Abandoned buildings became not just a fascination but also my temporary homes.  I’ve inhabited some odd places: neglected school houses, empty office building rooftops, condemned ghetto high-rises, the iron ruins of old factories.  There was a thrill in exploring these places, climbing and crawling around, bedding down among the artifacts of a forgotten life.

And, I discovered that those mysterious dumpsters of my youth really did have treasure in them.  It’s true!  The sheer glut of American excess would astound you.  One could find all kinds of working electronics, surplus clothing still wrapped in plastic, books, appliances, even whole cases of still-packaged, unexpired, completely salable and edible food.  And there was a simple, child-like joy in it, like being on an Easter egg hunt, the wide-eyed pursuit of unknown fortune.  It also brought to light the heart-breaking waste of the first-world, waste which certainly still happens.  Except now, the dumpsters have been replaced by unapproachable trash-compactors, much to the dismay of scavengers of all species.

A friend sits writing in the hall of a squatted high-rise


The crazy thing about a life on the road – and I mean really on the road, no hotel rooms, no rental cars, no brunching at the vineyard – is that you never actually know what is going to happen on a day to day basis.  This sounds like a simple enough thing, but think about how controlled our lives are.  How often do you wake up without knowing, at least generally, what lies in store for the day?  And whenever we are shaken out of this security, it is unwillingly, unpleasant, often due to some kind of tragedy, making us long for the comfort of our routine.  But what if you made the choice to nurture the possibilities of the unknown?  What if you consciously discarded the predictable, and let “fortune”, whatever name you want to give it, write your story for a while?  I don’t mean to romanticize things; I’ve slept in dumpsters and alleys too, battled frost-bite, rain and angry property owners.  It isn’t all carefree vagabondage: sometimes it’s getting mugged by random crackheads for your beer, or diarrhea in a remote span of woodland, with nary a toilet for miles.  But sometimes… sometimes it is a beautiful, indescribably liberating, utterly joyful and peaceful thing.  Sometimes you sit on a cliff-side and eat sandwiches in the early morning, as the sun is just inching over the horizon, and look down on the world and smile.  Because that world is yours, and you are it, and you are fully your own self yet part of everything else, too.  In our anxious and disconnected times, it’s a feeling that can really approach holiness.  I would not say it’s a path for everyone.  But I would say that however you do it, it’s good to sometimes find ways to step out of your insulation, to let go of our conditioned control over life, and let life happen to you.

A Suspended Dreamer’s Prelude

24 Nov

Hello, inter-web.  Welcome to my brain!

So today I’ve decided to do something that I likely should have done a decade ago, back when the internet was still a fresh wilderness of promise, and I myself a budding singularity, brimming with the infinitely possible.  Back when, in the soft, unsettled light of youth, endless doors were cracked open, though my eyes were always glued (of course) to that perpetually greener grass on some distant, other side.  But today I’ve decided to embrace that pioneer-spirit, grasp at whatever sovereign potential I may have within me as a writer (embarrassingly hopeful noun!), and throw some words out into the void.  What I’m getting at is, I’ve decided to *gulp* … blog.

I have to confess a prior distrust of blogging.  It seemed, I don’t know. Too easy.  In my (arguably misguided) sense of romanticism, I felt that my path to writer-hood lay out on the open road, a wandering scholar-warrior; armed with my wits, a manual typewriter, and the glimmering idealism of a man dipping his toes newly into the world.  I explored a lot of country, and had many wonderful experiences.  But I didn’t write them down!  I didn’t write a goddamn thing. I was unable to strike that balance between living externally and creating internally – time and energy were digested by life itself, and there were no scraps left over to put words to paper.  Regret wouldn’t be the right word, but I lament the loss of time.  Hey, what mortal doesn’t?

Fast-forward, and now I’m a gypsy with a broke-down wagon, semi-sedentary, semi-employed, semi-wiser.  Maybe.  And over time, “digital content” has become not only a potent vehicle for art and ideas, but in many ways the new standard.  So, with my newly planted roots and regular access to a computer, it seems like a good time to inch my nose towards the grindstone, and make an offering to the babble of the virtual world.  I extend a preemptive “thank you” for taking the time to read this, with extra thanks for anyone willing to toss over words of critique, perspective, agreement, absurdity, or just a friendly how-are-ya.

Here’s to the future – may it always be unwritten.